Do large companies still need convincing about PR beyond media coverage

PR is certainly evolving into PR 3.0, full of strategies for integrated communication, more focused on outcome rather than outcomes, on brand reputation rather than short tern bursts of coverage and on the big add on, digital.

But, yet, for many Indian firms, especially it seems large ones, the conversation is still primarily about that story in ‘The Economic Times’.

Poonam Mahajan, founder and director, Apexx Media shares that “ The startups are interested in knowing the whole PR Strategy, expected media coverage and its business impact also.”

However, Mahajan, adds that the situation is reversed for larger firms, “The established big companies and service provider’s major focus is on enhancing their brand value through coverage and other customer engagement activities and campaigns.”

Mahajan feels that large companies are not looking to PR for adding growth, therefore the ask remains confined to media coverage.

Mahajan explains further, “Chief marketers and clients still have a narrowly defined perception and understanding of PR. The reason being, they have learnt and have been following traditional marketing orientation, hence for a marketing professional, the purpose of hiring PR Services is only to get their product or service featured in the top media publications to attract the consumer.”

Radha Radhakrishna, senior communications strategist and writer does not agree saying, “Most large clients want to first understand how PR has helped in achieving their business objective. They would also like to understand qualitative aspect of the coverage more than the quantitative. That is how other marketing functions are measured. They are outcome focused and not output focused.”

The reason then that they are not opting for PR beyond average, feels Radhakrishnan, lies somewhere else.

She explains, “During my tenure as a corporate comm professional, I have sat through agency pitches which are mostly I, me, myself and what I can do for you. Very rarely have I come across pitches that speak from the point of view of what the business and marketing objectives are and how PR can help achieve it.”

Radhakrishnan further elaborates, “In many PR pitches, the first couple of slides which are most crucial ones to create an impression are wasted in either talking about the client's industry environment or about the PR agency and what their credentials are. In some cases, the focus will be on what kind of coverage the agency can get which makes the conversation too operational and transactional. Conversation need to happen at marketing strategy and problem solution level and not be reduced to coverage discussion.”

Startups attitude to PR

Startups with their openness to new approaches are more integrated PR friendly according to Mahajan, She says, “ The startups are interested in knowing the whole PR strategy, expected media coverage and its business impact also.”

According to Smita Malwe, account manager, Media Mantra, this has its’ own set of challenges. She explains, “Most of the startups merge their marketing and PR goals and expect PR to drive sales for them. In this case, discussion is mostly about coverage garnered for them (be it quality or  quantity).”

Malwe elaborates, “The situation gets worse when client impose the burden of their sales & revenue targets on PR. Most of the times acquisition teams agree on certain deliverable (number of impressions or coverage) and make work commitments to get the business on board. Later, these numbers are treated as the performance benchmark and outcomes have been calculated basis on the committed numbers. When client starts calculating the coverage as a success parameter, it becomes challenging to explain the impact of PR campaign.”

Mahajan says this happens because, “The firms’ market research is limited to sales and distribution, hence they don’t bother to understand the complicated process of PR and that it is a formal way of communication between company and customers.”

But as Neha Merchant, senior director, Allison+Partners says, “Conversations with clients can always be difficult, as more often than not, clients have pre-defined notions of what they think PR is all about, what they want and how they want to execute it. Given this scenario, my first instinct is to understand the client’s perspective, what is their perception of PR? Why are they looking at employing PR as a strategy? What are their expectations? Delving into their thought processes is half the battle won and I believe it becomes far easier to engage with them. “

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